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by Daisy Stirpe

Wellbeing in the workplace: the true extent of stress-related sickness

The recent broadcast of a popular radio show offers profound insight into the nature of a disastrous issue facing the working public of the UK and their employers, as well as the extent of its influence. Though the problem is intimidatingly pervasive, there are many actionable steps that can be taken to mitigate its impact.

The story in question was an episode of BBC radio 4’s programme You and Yours, initially released on Tuesday the 9th April 2019. The production is aired live over the course of 40 minutes, with members of the public encouraged to call in to the station to join discussions between the host and an industry expert concerning a particular topic. This time the subject was the increasing prevalence of stress in the modern workplace, and its far-reaching impact on mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Several callers got in touch over the course of the episode to share their experiences of stress in the workplace. A particularly sobering account came from a sixth form teacher whose lack of adequately skilled management and overwhelming workload had led to her adopting the practice of remaining awake for more than 24 hours once a week to make sure that she could mark all of her students’ homework on time, drinking throughout the night to cope with the stress. The physical toll of this pressure additionally led to her becoming addicted to painkillers in an effort to retain daily function.

It was also reported that several groups of employers were actively responding to these problems in extremely poor and counter-productive ways, with management teams punishing employees presenting with stress & panic attacks as a disciplinary issue in some workplaces. To compound this, employees in a variety of industries were coerced into working many more hours than they were contracted for, depriving them of essential time for domestic responsibilities and leisure. The health, education and social care sectors and the transport industry were cited as the most hostile working environments in this manner.

The concerns raised above are consistently supported by a plethora of research into the impact of stress. The Health & Safety Executive report 2018 identified that 57% of health-related absences from work are directly caused by stress. Additionally, compared with other common causes of sick leave, such as musculoskeletal injuries, the duration of these absences is much longer. The governmental body ACAS found in a recent study that mental ill-health, including stress, depression and anxiety, is thought to be responsible for 91 million working days lost each year, much more than for any other illness.

Within the programme, an expert guest from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development highlighted that chronic stress is also responsible for the gradual onset of increasingly severe physical symptoms, beginning with psychosomatic pains, and progressing to a weakened immune system and increased risk of organ failure. As such, it’s likely that all statistics referring to the ratio of stress-related absence are significantly under-estimated, as so many instances of physical illness may originate in stress as a catalysing root cause.

However, for every example of an unscrupulous business acting with callous negligence towards their workers, there will remain a majority of well-intentioned employers who are simply unsure of how best to tackle the problem, or how much it would cost to implement meaningful intervention. The well-evidenced truth is, that for the sake of a short-term investment in wellbeing support, it’s actually extremely cost effective to take proactive measures to prevent the much more significant financial burdens of prolonged sick leave, unnecessary recruitment and potential tribunals.

Analysts from ACAS project that the sum total of sickness absence costs UK employers £8,400,000,000 each year, plus another £15,100,000,000 in reduced productivity. A further £2,400,000,000 is spent on recruitment costs necessary to replace the staff who have been left with no option but to leave work because of mental ill-health. Overall, recent estimates place the annual cost of avoidable losses due to a lack of mental health support at 30 billion pounds.

What, then, can be done to ameliorate these regrettable losses? At JSA Psychotherapy, we utilise a variety of therapeutic models to provide our clients with techniques to bolster their emotional resilience and encourage healthier coping mechanisms that will allow them to approach stressful situations in a more confident way. As part of our HR Wellbeing package, we are practiced in offering these services to businesses as an external retainer.

Evidence-based, solution-focused clinical intervention is offered on a bespoke basis as individual therapy sessions for employees in need of support for pronounced issues, with ongoing, flexible access available to all members of the team for advice, counselling and emotional support. For every possible need, we possess experts capable of delivering a variety of therapeutic models. In the event of a crisis we’re unable to provide appropriate care for, we would promptly signpost the client to the relevant service.

It’s our belief that the retention of a mental health consultant is as essential a component of any workforce care plan as one sourced for health and safety or human resources, and that the benefits of adequately investing in the people that comprise an organisation cannot be overstated. It’s our hope that these sentiments will continue to spread throughout corporate culture and lead to sweeping changes towards progress for all British industries.

If you are part of a small to medium enterprise and would like to learn more about our service, or even become directly involved, we will be hosting a workshop and networking event on the morning of the 29th of May 2019. Delegates will be presented with demonstrations from our therapy team providing a detailed breakdown of the package and its content, and will be able to present their questions to a panel of experts.

Please get in touch at office@jsapsychotherapy.com to request further information or express your interest.

The episode of You and Yours referenced in this article can be accessed online here.

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